Monday, August 19, 2013

Are U.S. News & World Report School Rankings Nonsense?

Good Morning everyone!! 


With most college kids getting ready to start back in the upcoming week, I wanted to briefly touch upon this great article about school rankings. We often hear so much about school rankings and where/where-not to send your child, but do they really mean something? Check out this article below from Psychology today and find out for yourself!!


Are U.S. News & World Report School Rankings Nonsense?

A school is much more than some number on a list.
Like many people, early on I fell prey to U.S. News & World Report (USN&WR) school rankings. My parents seemed to appreciate them up, too. Consequently, during my senior year of high school, when I garnered acceptance to Cornell University, my folks were fine with my attending this uber-expensive institution. Ultimately, I love my parents for their generosity and support. I also enjoyed my years at Cornell—especially my senior year during which I spent more time on the Ithaca Commons than I ever spent in fly lab.
But knowing what I know now, I wonder whether Cornell University or any other “top-tier” school really is all that much better than the local state school. After all, a university or college is so much more than some numerical rank computed from a list of arguably arbitrary indicators. Good professors and bad professors teach at every school; good students and bad students attend every school. I’ve gone to private schools, and I’ve gone to state schools, and all my experiences were idiosyncratic. I’ve had great educational experiences at unranked schools and crappy experiences at highly ranked ones. In the August 2013 issue of Academic Medicine, there’s a study titled “Short-Term Stability and Spread of the U.S. News & World Report Primary Care Medical School Rankings” that challenges the validity of such rankings. With respect to the primary care medical school, the authors of the study analyzed the ranking criteria used by USN&WR and found most components inadequate when figuring the quality of a training program. Among the worst criteria were ones that people probably put most stock in—student selectivity (GPAs, MCAT scores and acceptance rates) and faculty resources (faculty-student ratios). Furthermore, USN&WR ranked the primary care prowess of medical schools based on how many graduates trained in pediatrics and internal medicine without taking into consideration how many of these graduates eventually completed fellowship training and thus became specialists. In other words, just because a school sends a ton of graduates to primary care residency programs and gets a higher rank at USN&WR does not mean that these students end up practicing primary care medicine.
Although this study examines only the deficiencies of such rankings with respect to medical school, I bet that the rankings are equally inaccurate for a range of schools and programs. After all, how important are measures like alumni giving rate and faculty compensation when determining the quality of an undergraduate program?
I hope that any parent (or student) reading this post will realize what I and many of my peers never realized. Rankings doled out by publications like USN&WR are a lot more subjective than the folks at this publication would likely have us believe. Of course you love your kids, and of course you want your kids to partake of the best educational opportunities, but make sure that important decisions like where to go for college depend on factors much more important that some number on an ordinal list. More specifically, find a school that appeals to your pocket book and your kid’s personal preferences even if its name doesn’t carry “cachet.”

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